In a White House

Prime min­is­ter sounds a hope­ful tone on ne­go­ti­a­tions, while Trump re­it­er­ates his dis­like of the deal

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEVEN MUFSON Abby Phillip contributed to this re­port.

visit, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau sounds a hope­ful tone on NAFTA talks.

Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau vis­ited the White House on Wednesday seek­ing a new “fairer trade” deal among the United States, Canada and Mex­ico amid grow­ing alarm from busi­ness lead­ers that Pres­i­dent Trump is lean­ing to­ward jet­ti­son­ing the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in fa­vor of bi­lat­eral ac­cords.

In a news briefing at the Cana­dian Em­bassy, Trudeau in­sisted that main­tain­ing the trade deal be­tween the United States, Canada and Mex­ico would “pro­duce bet­ter out­comes for the cit­i­zens of all three coun­tries,” en­abling North Amer­i­can busi­nesses to com­pete more ef­fec­tively in the global market.

Com­ing up with ways to achieve “fairer trade” was “the pres­i­dent’s fo­cus, and it’s cer­tainly my fo­cus,” Trudeau said.

How­ever, Trump con­tin­ued to dis­par­age the 23-year-old ac­cord and pro­mote the idea of bi­lat­eral trade deals.

“We’ll see what hap­pens,” Trump told re­porters in the Oval Of­fice after be­ing asked whether NAFTA was dead. “We have a tough ne­go­ti­a­tion, and it’s some­thing you will know in the not too dis­tant fu­ture.”

The two lead­ers met as the fourth round of NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan just out­side Washington, with trade ex­perts, busi­nesses, la­bor and law­mak­ers from all three coun­tries warn­ing of a pos­si­ble break­down in the talks.

While Trudeau reaf­firmed that he con­tin­ued to be­lieve in NAFTA, Trump said that he was will­ing to strike bi­lat­eral trade deals with Canada or Mex­ico if the ne­go­ti­a­tions failed.

“Ab­so­lutely it’s pos­si­ble we won’t be able to reach a deal with one or the other, but in the mean­time we’ll make a deal with one,” Trump said in the Oval Of­fice, seated next to Trudeau. “I think it’s going to work out well for both coun­tries and Mex­ico.”

The sense of ur­gency about the talks has been build­ing after ear­lier rounds in Mex­ico City and Ottawa. On Mon­day, U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce Pres­i­dent Tom Dono­hue, speak­ing in Mex­ico City, said it was time to “ring the alarm bells” on NAFTA. He said that aban­don­ing the agree­ment would pose an “ex­is­ten­tial threat” to the con­ti­nent’s national and eco­nomic se­cu­rity.

La­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups were tak­ing aim at the talks, which have re­mained closed to the pub­lic. Ben Beachy, trade ex­pert at the Sierra Club, said that “it is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able that two months into NAFTA’s rene­go­ti­a­tion” the ses­sions re­mained closed.

In his Oval Of­fice com­ments, Trump added that “we have to pro­tect our work­ers, and in all fair­ness, the prime min­is­ter wants to pro­tect Canada and his peo­ple also. So we’ll see what hap­pens with NAFTA.”

The pres­i­dent re­it­er­ated that “I’ve been op­posed to NAFTA for a long time in terms of the fair­ness of NAFTA. I said we’ll rene­go­ti­ate.” He said, “I think Justin un­der­stands that if we can’t make a deal, it will be ter­mi­nated and that will be fine. They’re going to do well. We’re going to do well. But maybe that won’t be nec­es­sary. But it has to be fair to both coun­tries.” Ear­lier Wednesday, dur­ing meet­ings with mem­bers of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, the Cana­dian prime min­is­ter stressed that he did not want ne­go­ti­a­tions to col­lapse.

“He made it clear they don’t want to pull out. They want a suc­cess­ful rene­go­ti­a­tion,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee. Levin said Trudeau shared his con­cern about la­bor con­di­tions and wages, say­ing he did not want the treaty to speed “a race to the bot­tom.”

But Trudeau also told com­mit­tee mem­bers that he was wor­ried about “poi­son pills,” pro­pos­als the United States might make that were de­signed to kill, not re­pair, the NAFTA agree­ment.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to im­pose 219 per­cent tar­iffs on Cana­dian air­craft — de­signed to block a Bom­bardier sale to Delta Air Lines that might oth­er­wise go to Boe­ing — also in­flamed ten­sions with Canada. Delta chief ex­ec­u­tive Ed Bas­tian said on an earn­ings call that Boe­ing’s case was weak and that he did not ex­pect to pay the tar­iff, though he added that Delta’s 75-plane or­der could be de­layed.

Trudeau said he “high­lighted” the dis­pute in his talks Wednesday. Switch­ing to French, he added that “this was not an easy con­ver­sa­tion but an im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion.” He said Canada’s mil­i­tary might seek al­ter­na­tives to Boe­ing for fu­ture fighter-jet pur­chases.

Trump and Trudeau met one day after an in­ter­view was pub­lished in Forbes mag­a­zine in which Trump said that NAFTA had been “a ter­ri­ble deal for our coun­try.”

“NAFTA has been a dis­as­ter for man­u­fac­tur­ing in this coun­try. We have lost so much of our car busi­ness to Mex­ico. NAFTA is a dis­as­ter as a deal,” Trump told the mag­a­zine. “Now we’re rene­go­ti­at­ing it. I hap­pen to think that NAFTA will have to be ter­mi­nated if we’re going to make it good. Oth­er­wise, I be­lieve you can’t ne­go­ti­ate a good deal.”

The fourth round of talks will ex­tend to Tues­day.

“Ab­so­lutely it’s pos­si­ble we won’t be able to reach a deal with one or the other, but in the mean­time we’ll make a deal with one.” Pres­i­dent Trump, re­fer­ring to Canada and Mex­ico

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

Pres­i­dent Trump and Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau walk to the Oval Of­fice for a meet­ing Wednesday.

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